Merneith and other Ancient Egyptian Women

While Cleopatra is arguably one of the most commonly-known pharaohs, the majority of leaders were men. Thus, the mention of Merneith on Tuesday in the list of pharaohs piqued my interest about Merneith, other royal and civilian women in Ancient Egypt. What political and economic rights did they have? And what typical gender roles (such as everyday tasks and occupations) were assigned to women? What social and governmental positions did they hold?

Contrary to most other ancient societies, and even some societies today, women in Ancient Egypt were fairly equal to men. According to an article on Cornell’s website, women in Ancient Egypt, “enjoyed the same legal and economic rights, at least in theory, and this concept can be found in Egyptian art and contemporary manuscripts”. Actually, division of economic and legal rights was not be gender, but social status.

Women had many legal powers in Ancient Egypt, including, but not limited to, owning land, buy, borrowing, and selling slaves and servants, and the ability to sue and divorce. The Cornell articles argues that this was different than other ancient societies like Ancient Greece where a woman required a man to represent the woman in all legal matters.

However, some gender roles are comparable to other ancient societies and some cultures today. For example, pregnancy and having children was a way to measure a woman’s success. Furthermore, on a website dedicated to information about women in the ancient world, it states that it was an accepted idea for women to be in charge of the household, and that men should – although heads of the household – refrain from involving themselves in household matters.

Finally, like I mentioned earlier, Cleopatra and other royal women demonstrated that while Ancient Egyptian women typically worked in the household, it was not unheard of for a woman to hold a governmental position. Cleopatra, Merneith, and others like Nefertiti illustrate the importance royal women had in Ancient Egyptian society.

2 thoughts on “Merneith and other Ancient Egyptian Women

  1. I am thoroughly pleased with the fact that you chose to focus on the women of ancient Egypt (or women in ancient times in general). Not saying that I am a hardcore feminist, I just think that it is nice that someone else pointed out that Cleopatra was not the only memorable female of the time. Merneith, as you mentioned, is testament to that and I too am genuinely interested in learning more about her.
    Anyway, going back to what your post is actually about, a lot of the things you mentioned were highly intriguing! I heard or read somewhere, and I don’t quote, that women of Ancient Egypt were actually the only females during ancient times that were rightfully allowed to sue and divorce their husbands. Another thing mentioned that I liked, was that men were to keep from doing housework and women should be the ones in charge in that area. Although most would find that idea “offensive”, I personally interpret it as something highly positive! I feel that, then, it was looked at, not as a: “you’re a woman, therefore your place is the kitchen”, but as a positive; a job that men, men who built pyramids, would never be able to do unless they were a woman. And I feel that in ancient times, they gave a more positive message about women, in that regard.

  2. I was also very excited to see that you had written more about the women’s roles in Ancient Egypt! The questions you posed in the start of your post are something I would love to be able to discuss more in class. I personally did not know much past what we learned in class about women in Ancient Egypt. It was fascinating to learn that it was social status that caused the division of economic and legal rights, not by an individual’s gender. I was very surprised to learn that Ancient Egyptian women were able to sue and divorce men in their society. I took a class about Ancient Rome, and the situations there were drastically different from what you have been describing in this post. Those women were not entitled to legal privileges, particularly those you mentioned, such as owning land, the ability to sue and divorce and the business of slavery.

    I agree with the previous comment about the statement addressing the leadership of household matters. In this aspect, I also believe that it was a positive look at the women skills in managing a household, especially when their husbands were away building pyramids or performing other duties. I hope we will cover more about how women have influenced Ancient Egypt in the rest of this class!

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